By Hunter Dawkins

The public hearing Wednesday night about the new oyster aquaculture farm off the Deer Island site as proposed by Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) was not as smooth as the government agency hoped. MDMR requested the selected location due to the minimal vessel and fishing traffic plus protection on the southern border from Katrina Reef.

Several concerned citizens expressed opposition to MDMR’s recommended plan because Deer Island has been classified as a “Coastal Preserve.”

These regions receive both state and federal funding for a variety of enhancement projects to conserve wetlands in over 20 places throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Additionally, a few opponents stated that there was no need for commercial fishing on these “Coastal Preserve” sites and this request for oyster aquaculture gear and pilings required for oyster growth is aesthetically poor.

A large group of Coast residents that expressed concerns of this farm did agree that raising oysters was good for the
environment and economics, but hoped the site would be relocated if possible.

Following this debate, several commercial fisherman and hopeful oyster farmers spoke about the issue during the public
comments. President of the Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Inc. Frank Parker told the audience that he “has been legally commercially fishing, shrimping, and crabbing around Deer Island daily for years and that the oyster farm site would be no significant impact to the island or waterways it would occupy.” Potential oyster farmers expressed that if the site was permitted, the public would be welcome to come fish around the oyster farm.

After the deliberation closed, MDMR Executive Director Jamie Miller did indicate that a majority of the 85-acre location is within the riparian rights of state owned land. According to Miss. Code Sections 49-27-7 of the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act

Exempt activities, areas and entities include: (c) Hunting, erecting duck blinds, fishing, shellfishing and trapping when and where otherwise permitted by law.

The Mississippi Commission on Marine Resources will take up the issue for approval at the September or October regularly scheduled Commission meeting.